Japan’s Shinzo Abe Opens STS Forum: Advancing the Lights & Managing the Shadows of Science & Technology

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

As science and technology rapidly advance and progress, the central challenge posed to the 1400+ attendees of this year’s STS Forum in Kyoto by founder Koji Omi is how to harmonize going forward economic development with global warming. Since 2004, international researchers and national innovation lab directors, Nobel laureates, government policy makers, business and media leaders have gathered each fall in Japan to address the most critical issues facing societies across the globe. The 2018 STS Forum, just concluded, specifically featured leaders in energy, water resilience, artificial intelligence & IoT, public health, and finance. VX News presents an excerpt of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s opening remarks, as well as those by both former U.S. Secretary of Energy Dr. Ernest Moniz and Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada.

Koji Omi, Founder and Chairman, Science and Technology in Society forum, former Minister of Finance, Japan:  The rapid progress of science and technology has brought tremendous benefit to the economy and our quality of life on one hand. But on the other hand, science and technology have also brought about problems such as bioethical issues or cybersecurity and privacy challenges. Our discussion surrounds thinking what the future will be like—not just in twenty or thirty years time—but also in a century or 500 years from now.

However, the global scene has changed drastically in recent years due to the rise of national self-interest, not only in trade and security, but also international corporations in science and technology facing major challenges. These challenges and circumstances make the activities of the STS Forum more vital than ever.

This year’s forum focuses greatly on balancing economic development and building a sustainable society. Technology is a key to achieve and unlocking sustainability in both energy and the environment. In this context, nuclear energy shall remain a significant option under the condition of the safety, security, and non-proliferation. Remarkable advances have been made recently, for example in the area of autonomous vehicles and business productivity, thanks to IoT and AI technology. At the same time, critical programs such as IP security and job losses must be addressed.

Even just since the year we created the STS Forum, the speed of innovation has been increasing in all fields. We must now focus on the new areas pioneered by scientific progress. I welcome and thank Prime Minister Abe for joining us today. I appreciate his strong leadership in promoting Japan’s science and technology policy, and his support for the STS Forum.           

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe:  Over the next three years, I will do my best to boost innovation. For us to grow, only three things count: innovation, innovation, and innovation. Six years ago, you saw a sense of despair in Japan. Many people said there was nothing to be done. You could have called it a tall wall of despair.

I challenged it by boosting innovation. Under my guidance, our Cabinet office began something new—its own innovation. Our idea was to launch a number of accelerated open innovation platforms named Impact. We chose 16 Impact managers, men and women, all top achievers in their own scientific fields. Some came from universities, others from industry. Some are quite young, and others are still very young—at least at heart. We appointed them as program managers, each one of them running one specific project that will launch some kind of innovation that no one else ever dreamed of before. He or she, as a manager, puts together a team of experts under the leadership of the manager. Those experts come out of their shadows, giving us open innovation. They bring together their knowledge and create tangible outcomes, never heard of until now.

For example, imagine you just experienced a big earthquake. The earthquake wiped power, roads, and brought heavy rain. There would be no way to know how to get to an isolated village. But imagine you had a satellite. And you can put a satellite into orbit on demand because it is as small as a cardboard delivery box and only ten percent of the cost of a normal satellite.

The satellite’s radar antenna starts sending ground information back only 10 hours after launch. Its accuracy: one meter. It has spatial resolution capabilities rain or shine, day or night. In short, the satellite has made the previously impossible, possible. Under manager of the project, Professor Seiko Shirasaka—who used to be an engineer with Mitsubishi Electric—he has head a group of professionals. These professionals range from satellite developers and disaster monitoring experts, to engineers from major construction companies.

Impact is about accelerated open innovation. How accelerated is it? We use taxpayers money. Impact managers are held accountable. More than 16 managers are in friendly competition with each other, over a common timeline. Positive peer pressure also works. In the years to come, the vast array of experts who have played key roles with impact programs will likely run innovation projects, one after another, as managers. It is my belief that they will constitute the core of Japan’s innovation ecosystem.

I am very glad that finally young people in Japan are more positive, and even optimistic, about their future. That is because out of every hundred job-seeking college graduates, more than 98 end up joining companies. I am even more pleased that an increasing number of people, both men and women, well into their thirties and forties, are entering the current education programs and are aiming to be innovators. They will lead us to weather a tidal wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by launching innovations and creating innovative businesses never imagined before.

There is a role government should play. That role is to fill the cavernous gaps between the existing institutions and institutions that will enhance innovation. It is to change and sometimes scrub institutions and understand what data is now obsolete. In Japan, you now see regulatory sandboxes in place. They are the testing ground to solve all sorts of ideas. Our innovations will also grow up to led the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Come and play in our sandboxes.

I am of the belief that a strong Japan is in the world’s best interest. In that belief, I worked hard over the last six years to boost Japan’s economy. Now, for the next three years I promise I will do even more to pursue growth and enhance innovation to the benefit of the world.

Ernest Moniz, former U.S. Secretary of Energy: I want to thank Chairman Omi for developing the theme of advancing the lights and managing the shadows of science and technology. I believe that it’s important to add that those of us in the science policy community have an obligation to address this question of the shadows. Similar to my field, where the physics community came together after World War II to ethically address the shadows coming out of that period.

In my post-government career, I am focusing on the existential threats facing humanity, involving this theme of light and shadows.

First, the question of climate change and global warming. Science and technology has produced multiple societal revolutions over the last decades. From the industrial to the information revolutions, we literally lit up the world by developing the continental-scale synchronous on-demand electricity systems that we see in our countries. It has been labeled the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century by the U.S. National Academy of Engineering. But, in doing so, we have also transferred an enormous amount of carbon from the earth to the atmosphere—leading to the environmental risks of climate change. Clearly a key to resolving the challenges is innovation in science and technology, in particular clean energy.

The Paris COP 21 Meeting, justifiably remembered for reaching the Paris Climate Accord on the last day of the COP, is also important because on the first day of the COP national leaders stood up and announced Mission Innovation.

Mission Innovation was a statement not only about doubling clean energy research and development, but also acknowledging the centrality of technology to addressing the climate issue. Frankly, making the solutions for energy services and new services inexpensive, attractive, ubiquitous, and available in developing countries where benefits have not previously been felt.

Great advancements are underway, especially in the electricity sector and in the electrification of parts of other sectors. I emphasize that we need to expand and intensify our efforts because there are many other sectors that will not be addressed in this way. For example, many industrial applications that require high quality, high temperature process heat are unlikely to be electrified. We have a major agenda left to do, and all of our countries need to come together in the Mission Innovation spirit.

Let me be blunt, we are not even close to being on a trajectory for minimizing the impact of global warming to less than two degrees centigrade. We must supplement our technology developments with large-scale carbon management, including negative carbon technologies such as direct air capture with billions of tons scale utilization of that CO2 in commodity products. This is not a simple agenda. It will require fundamental science breakthroughs and great dedications, but this is an obligation if we are to meet our climate goals.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Chairman: In the midst of what we are calling a once in a century transformational period within the automobile industry, we are now strategically shifting our R&D efforts to electrification information and intelligent technologies. We have seen the promise of the Hydrogen Society in Japan. In addition, the promise of electrification of vehicles is crucial to reducing CO2 consumption. The role of hybrid, electrical, and fuel cell electric vehicles is second to none.

We introduced the Prius in 1997, and since then we have continued our effort toward popularizing hybrids for over twenty years. The Prius plug-in hybrid debuted in 2012, and by the second generation was introduced in 2017, we succeeded in significantly increasing its EV cruising range. We also released the Mirai, a fuel cell electric vehicle, in 2014. Today, more than 6,800 cars have been sold.

To accelerate the popularization of electrified vehicles, it is critical that we respond to social needs as well as offer increased convenience to customers. We need to employ an all-encompassing approach to products, technologies, and social infrastructures. We plan to introduce more than ten new models by the mid-2020s to increase options for consumers, and by 2025 we plan to produce electrified versions of all vehicle models. By 2030, we aim to sell more than 5.5 million electrified vehicles, including one million zero emission vehicles.

"Young people in Japan will lead us to weather a tidal wave of the Fourth Industrial Revolution by launching innovations and creating innovative businesses never imagined before." - Prime Minister Shinzo Abe